Recently in the midst of a tense medical situation with my dad, I was able to unexpectedly go home for nine days. Home will always be a corner of the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Kentucky where I was raised. A small, coal-mining town called Hazard, nestled in one of the most beautiful regions in our country.
I married at the amazingly wise and mature age of 17 (smile) and left those mountains and have lived in three other places and traveled oceans beyond – across the water – as my great aunt says, and while I know that home is where you dwell and where your heart is, there is a part of me that stayed in those mountains and so it will forever be home to me.
This Thanksgiving season I have mountains of gratitude.
For a God who created me out of nothing and crafted a plan that is uniquely mine to live out.
For parents who did everything they knew to do to provide for me and my siblings.
For the discovery of coal lined mountains and the wisdom to extract it and use it for heat that kept me warm most of my growing up years.
For fresh water springs that flow from mountain tops and kept our family supplied with water.
For gardens of vegetables and animals raised that provided food enough for the large brood we were.
For a church literally built on a hillside where Sam and Wanda Fugate dedicated their lives to reaching the people in that area with the Gospel. My eternity was in their hands – what if they had not answered God’s call to come home to those mountains and start a church from and with nothing?
For teachers who trained, loved and educated me more about issues of life than about academics. They gave me a love for learning.
For mountain and bluegrass music that I was exposed to at an early age where I learned that the story in a song was far more important than the delivery of the tune.
For pig roastings, square dances, and events that created a love for community and the importance of traditions.
For front porches lined with rocking chairs and swings and where hours of time were filled with family stories retold and passed down to new generations.
For tables of food and always enough for unexpected guests and open doors that welcomed anyone in homes who needed a safe place to land.
For willow trees that lined the creek banks and rocks that served as jumping off points when summers were warm and rivers were cool and inviting.
For Dogwood and Redbud trees that welcomed spring and signified Easter dresses were being sewn and eggs were being readied for after church play.
For cousins that doubled as best friends and gathered nightly to play in the yard. Those are the people who taught me how to get along, work things out, share and keep secrets, and the importance of family loyalty.
For lessons learned through the heartaches that life brought to the mountains: coal mining accidents that claimed the lives of relatives, poverty that comes from being isolated geographically, loneliness and longing when family would leave the mountains and homesickness to return.
For a slow pace of life where the goal was to enjoy those who God put in my life more than the possessions and activities that life can accumulate.
For mountains tall enough to scale during the day and valleys deep enough to hold safe housing at night which taught me that mountains and valleys are both necessary in life.
This Thanksgiving day, I’m looking back to those mountains with gratitude and ahead to the mountains I’ve yet to scale. All with gratitude for what is and what lies beyond.